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Keys to Success on your Upper Colorado Fly Fishing Trip

Rainbow Trout - Upper Colorado Fishing
Written by: Andy Pearson

The Upper Colorado River is an amazing body of water to fish, especially with a fly. The settings are perfect for you to have a successful trip however there are a few key techniques and important things to know to make your trip more successful.

This is an experience that is truly Colorado. You have some of the best fishing in the state while enjoying scenery through canyons and beautiful open land for acres and acres.

Below are the 4 most important steps to having a fun time and success on the Upper Colorado River!

Step 1- Have the right equipment!

Fly fishing has a low level of difficulty to start with if you follow the basic steps of casting your rod.

Rod & Reel

*Tip: 10 o’clock and 1 o’clock are the main numbers you will hear. That is how you move the rod to stroke the line and get the fly out on the water. Many YouTube videos teach this. Practice if you can at home before heading out.

It is important to have the proper rod to ensure you can cast properly.


Besides the rod and reel, you will need waders if you are on a wade trip. These keep your legs from being directly exposed to the water and keep you warm. They give you the ability to go deeper into the stream and approach fish better.

AVA does provide walk and wade tours on the Upper Colorado with all the equipment mentioned provided.

Colorado River Fly Fishing

Rafting Gear for Float Trips

You also can float in a raft. With this you would need a boat, oars, and at least 2 people so one can row and the other fish. Float trips are best with 3 people so 2 can fish and 1 can row. If you prefer fishing the whole time AVA offers guided fly-fishing tours where you can fish and the guide rows.

Guides always help make the trip better with local knowledge of fishing holes and flies to use to catch fish.


Nymph fly for trout

Get flies locally at the shop when you arrive. If you bring flies in you run the risk of not catching as much due to the local flies and bugs the fish like.

Sunscreen & Sunglasses

Bring sunscreen and polarized sunglasses. The polarized lenses let you see right through the water and to the bottom making the fish glow in the water. This is amazing to know where to land that fly!

Step 2- Know where to go!

Pumphouse Recreation Area: The Upper Colorado flows west and travels many miles. You have Class 5 rapids in Gore Canyon that do not make for the best fishing. However, a few miles below the rapids you will find the Pumphouse Recreation Area. This is a popular put in and take out for boaters and fisherman alike. Just a few miles downstream you will find amazing tray pools on river left that hold Brown Trout almost all year long. River right you find large swirling eddies and even more midstream. *Tip: Keep in mind that floating is best done in 14 ft rafts. Specific fishing vessels take more water at higher flows.

Radium Recreation Area: Pumphouse to Radium Hot springs is a great float for fly fishing as the trip brings you through 2 Class 2 rapids that can tire fish and also create great eddies to let on float in. Spend some time in the flatwater before the canyon to see what bites. Eye of the Needle is the big rapid on the trip (Class 2-3 at higher flows) and the fish like to hang our river left in the large eddies.

Rancho Del Rio: Radium to Rancho Del Rio is another great fly-fishing trip and is personally my favorite. Whether you are wading or floating you will more than likely get a bite. The water is deeper and you generally fish the main channel as it is deeper and slower moving than upstream. As you get into the canyon you will see Yarmony rapid. Fish love to hang out below there and is a great place to post up a minute and see what bites! Downstream of Rancho Del Rio makes for great wade fishing past the bridge especially.

Step 3- Understanding the River!

Fly fishing on any river has moving water and many variables that effect fish and their likelihood of being in a certain area.

– Main Current- is the fastest moving water in the center or sides of the stream during bends in the river. Fish tire out and do not feed in fast moving water however a slower moving main current does provide good fishing.

– Eddies- these are recirculating whirlpools on the sides of the main current. Fish LOVE to hang out in these as they can rest and most of the flies and larvae are hatched in the calmer recirculating water. Put a fly in it and let it circulate and just wait!

– Holes/Hydraulics- when water flows over rocks the water speeds up creating a downward force pushing water down off the rock. This creates whitewater and what we consider a hole. Generally higher hydraulics mean less fish due to current.

– Pour Over- This is the section of calm water behind a rock where the water is not white and bubbly however is slow and almost not moving. It has a slow hydraulic that will pull your fly towards the rock. This is GREAT for catching trout!

Step 4- Know what you are fishing for!

If you do not go to a local fly shop and buy flies you might know what is biting at that time. I highly recommend checking out Fly Fishing Colorado in Kremmling for flies and local knowledge.

1. Rainbow Trout- Beautiful fish with a red line through the middle of the fish with black spots across a light-colored body.

kokanee salmon

2. Brown Trout- has black spots over a light body with yellow or red on the fins and belly. Hard to catch and more likely in the fall.

3. Brook Trout- Easiest to catch as there is a high population. Black spots on a dark colored body with reds and greens ranging throughout.

All of the fish mentioned above bite flies and love to be in slower portions of the river in the main current. All of the fish above love eddies, pour overs, and calm water. The flies are seasonal so make sure to stop by the shop and know what is biting.

Regardless of where you choose to spend your day on the Upper Colorado you will not be displeased!


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